Dear Dr. Fournier:
My son is facing the summer with the now infamous summer reading list. He must read two books this summer and is less than enthusiastic about it. I feel that required summer reading does more to make my son resent reading rather than enjoy it. He is an avid reader, but these books are of no interest to him. On the other hand, I know that if school did not assign him to read something of worth, he will just keep reading what he likes to read, which is science fiction.
I’ve tried to explain every possible reason why it is important for my son to read these books during the summer, but none of them are very effective. Yet the fact remains that he has to read these books, and there is no way around it. Is there anything I can do to help him find excitement in summer reading? My son is in the seventh grade.
Santa Fe, NM
Reading is a mechanical skill, like riding a bike. You learn to maneuver the bike to get to a given destination. So if reading is the bike, what is the destination? It’s called thinking!
The act of reading does not necessarily mean that our children are thinking. Many children rely on purely convergent thinking to pass tests by merely memorizing names and key events, yet they have never stopped to think about what the author was trying to convey.
Unfortunately, children often bring this mentality to the table when they are asked to read novels that scholars have spent most of their life trying to understand. There is no way that a ninth grade student should be expected to glean the inner meaning from what appears on the surface to be either a good or an awful story if they have not yet transitioned from using memorization to the point where they can access and own the reading in a way that allows them to go on to create new knowledge.
During the summer, I encourage parents to adopt their own reading program that goes for quality of thinking and not quantity of reading. The goal is to make reading interesting, relevant, fun and most of all thought-provoking. As your child gets older, it can also pay great dividends later when it comes time to prepare essays and written materials for college applications, as I will explain below.
WHAT TO DO:
Go to the library, bookstore, or e-bookstore and have your child help you select several books of interesting sayings or quotations. Keep them handy and encourage your child to look at them often.
Let your child know that these quotations will become an ongoing game. At different moments during the day take turns finding sayings that are fun, funny, provocative or surprising. For a younger child, try to beat each other at finding the best one. For high schoolers who are past this sort of game playing, these can be read like a daily meditation in the morning.
Let these quotations spur your thinking and discussion. Does the saying remind you of someone or a special time in the past? Is there a certain person with whom you’d like to share a particular quotation? Where did that saying come from? Does it help to put it into context?
For example, when discussing peer pressure or how to dress, you might quote “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” (C.C. Colton). Or, your son might respond, “Imitation is suicide.” (Emerson).
If your child wants to ask you to go to the park, he might pick a funny quotation like this one from Barbara Bush:
“The darn trouble with cleaning a house is it gets dirty the next day anyway, so skip a week if you have to. The children are the most important thing.”
As you enjoy finding the humor and wisdom in these writings, challenge your child to think and put ideas into his own words. As you begin this “Wisdom Diary,” you may find interesting sayings in a variety of places – in magazine articles, or on the Internet.
Remember that summer reading is a means to the end – and the end is creative thinking.
Keep this “Wisdom Diary” throughout high school so that you will have a collection of noteworthy thoughts and ideas to add to your writing in support of statements you make in your essays and ultimately college application essays. These bits of wisdom that you put in your diary are things you experience throughout high school that have left an impression on you, so much so that you are able to include in your essay the wisdom you derived from it. Your wisdom statements weave together your previous experiences, knowledge and judgment.
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